In response to criticism about the lack of visibility of artists last year, State of the Arts 2012 held the promise of greater artist involvement. 50 bursaries of financial support created real opportunities for people to attend who couldn’t have otherwise and 18 parallel sessions offered themed dicussions on a range of ‘Artists and…’ topics, with some very brilliant contributions from the likes of Dan Thompson, Neville Gabie, James Marriott and Clio Barnard.

Whilst there is little doubt ACE genuinely wants to involve artists, it does so in a highly controlled and tightly curated manner that only serves to emphasise its inescapably hierarchical nature and the extent of its deeply engrained institutional paternalism. In always giving the keynote presentations to ACE Chair, Liz Forgan, and a minister, Ed Vaizey, MP and Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries two years running, ACE asserts a reality of the world as seen by Arts Council eyes – a reality far removed from that of artists and small arts organisations on the ground: “2012 really feels like a year of tremendous opportunity for artists across the country”, said Forgan.

As many of the artists I spoke to were asking: why not an artist as keynote speaker? Why not let artists set the agenda and format of the day? Why not introduce some messiness to the proceedings and cede some control?

Much could have been learnt from the Stronger together event, which ACE was involved in, with its open and highly participatory format. As Dan Thompson (@artistsmakers) raised on Twitter just after the event: “Didn’t come away from #sota12 with any great feeling that voices were heard, action would be taken. Would have liked ACE to end #sota12 with at least one thing happening; we heard x said, we will do y. Just one, small thing.” What might the outcome have been if artists set the conversation and the format, and the arts sector large and small actively worked together for a day?

The sotablog, run by Andy Field and Hannah Nicklin and with contributions from bloggers embedded in each of the parallel sessions, does offer potential for real outcomes. With time invested in browsing and engaging with its detailed insights and very broad range of opinions, it gives us all a retrospective chance to make the most of the day.

We’re particularly interested to hear what artists who attended (or experienced the conference virtually) have to say about the event, post reports/reviews to Interface Reviews or email [email protected]

Read Gillian Nicol’s report on the 2011 event Stronger together: Is collaboration different in the visual arts?